Minneapolis is traumatized. For people of color, the trauma has been going on far longer than simply the past year. And for too many the trauma is deepening. We all feel it. Babies are being shot. Black men and women have good reason to fear the police. Businesses are on edge. The cops are tired and fearful of all the guns on the street. Politicians are flailing as they try to find solutions.
There is one way to ease these traumas: meaningful reform of the way we do public safety. It is in the interest of all of us to do so. We cannot stop violence without trust and cooperation between safety officers and the community. Businesses cannot feel safe to operate as long as we fear both random violence and the reaction to the next wrongful death of another citizen. The community cannot trust law enforcement until we all routinely experience competence and compassion rather than a hostile warrior mentality.
I truly believe that the vast majority of us know that we need deep systemic change. We have been asking for it for decades. Every single mayor and police chief has promised change since former Mayor Don Fraser appointed Tony Bouza as Police Chief in 1980. All of us — especially white citizens — let the dysfunction fester too long until it has become a metastasized cancer. This current hell is due to our collective failure as a city to make change. We cannot put it off any longer.
The bad news is that we seem to have two warring factions who cannot agree on a way forward. On the one hand, the mayor and the chief appear to be tinkering around the edges without proposing bold change. On the other hand, the city council appears to be discounting the experience of current police leadership. We need a mayor who will push the police beyond their comfort zone and a city council that will listen to the lived experiences of police officers and communities who experience daily violence.
Who is presenting a clear vision? After a year and a half, no current leader has publicly laid out a detailed vision of a new public safety department. We know it will include new mental health responders, which — while a good idea — will not solve all the problems.
Regardless of the outcome of the November vote on charter amendments, we have serious systemic change work to do. This is hard, complicated work, which requires listening to experts and all stakeholders. Fundamental change that sticks can only come from consensus.
We need leaders who are capable of building consensus to lead this work. I do not have faith that current city leaders can provide that leadership. There have been too many missteps. However well intentioned, they have each lost the confidence of significant parts of the community by either reacting emotionally without even a plan for a plan or impulsively by clearing George Floyd Square in the middle of the night.
So, now what?
I support having a respected neutral convener pull together all stakeholders to design new systems and future transition plans. This would be much like Attorney General Keith Ellison’s statewide working group on recommendations for 21st century policing.
To our many critics outside Minneapolis, please contribute to the solution. This is hard work. We need the help of everyone. Some solutions require changing state laws. We can learn from communities where there is more community-based policing.